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Marfa Public Radio acquires Odessa College radio license

February 24th, 2011 under Top Stories

By ROBERT HALPERN

MARFA, ODESSA – Marfa Public Radio was the successful bidder Tuesday to acquire the license for the Odessa College public radio station.

In acquiring KOCV-FM 91.3, Marfa radio agreed to pay Odessa College (OC) $300,000 and move the transmitter and tower from the campus, said Cheri Dalton, OC’s director of media relations and publications. The deal calls for a cash payment of $150,000 and the remainder in sponsorships over the next 10 years. In addition, Marfa Public Radio will provide student internships at KOCV.

The decision was unanimous by college trustees.

Ian Foster staffs the board at Odessa College public radio. An OC engineering major, he is the son of Anthony Foster of Fort Davis and Shane Connor of Alpine. (staff photos by ROBERT HALPERN)

Marfa station Manager Tom Michael said the outcome is win-win situation for both stations.

“This will help our financial stability; we can acquire more national programming at lower prices, and we hope to increase our membership.”

Odessa College’s radio listeners, he said, will benefit from a Marfa radio staff with a proven track record in fundraising and providing a wealth of local programming.

Marfa Public Radio, officially KRTS-FM 93.5, was one of three bidders. The others were Texas Public Radio, which operates three non-commercial radio stations in the San Antonio/Central Texas area, and South Plains Public Radio, an arm of Texas Tech University with one public radio station in Lubbock.

Marfa radio was the only bidder to address moving the transmitter and tower, a requirement in OC’s request for proposals.

Michael and fellow MPR radio staffer Rachel Osier Lindley were present at Tuesday’s OC board meeting; no one was present from the other bidders.

Information about the other bids wasn’t disclosed, Dalton said.

OC board President Walter Smith said the finance committee did a good job of reviewing the offers. “We’re satisfied we got the best bid, and all the offers were good.”

Marfa Public Radio will move the tower off campus.

Said Midlander Bill Dingus, a self-proclaimed public radio supporter who organized a meeting last week for Permian Basin residents to meet the three bidders: “This is great for Midland and all the listeners in our area. It’s great for our towns – Midland and Marfa – a station that will be run by wonderful, dedicated people. I couldn’t be happier.”

KOCV has struggled in recent years. Its equipment is outdated and as a result its signal has weakened where it no longer can be heard in nearby Midland. Additionally, student interest has dwindled over the years, and OC no longer offers broadcasting courses. Fundraising has dropped from about $100,000 in 2003 to just $15,000 last year.

Michael said there will likely be a six-month waiting period for the deal to close, while the Federal Communications Commission reviews the license change of hands.

He said it’s important for Marfa Public Radio listeners to know the station’s mission will remain strong. “We’re still on pace to complete our tower upgrade – from 50,000 watts to 100,000 watts – and install a backup generator. All that money is earmarked, local money used locally.”

As for plans for KOCV, Michael said a site is being considered for the new transmitter and tower, northeast of Odessa in the farming and ranching community of Gardendale. Renting a space on an existing tower also is a possibility.

The new tower site should provide a strong signal to Midland and nearby communities.

A new KOCV studio will require a fundraising initiative in the Permian Basin area, a  “pay as you go” scenario, Michael said. In the meantime, KOCV can be operated remotely from Marfa. It’s conceivable that KOCV listeners may hear some Marfa Public Radio programming, including Harry Hudson’s “Rock ‘til One,” David Beebe’s “Night Train Express,” Lonn Taylor’s “The Rambling Boy,” “Musica en Español,” by Rosario Salgado Halpern, and “Rock-a-Billy” by Billy and Joni Marginot.

Acquiring a new radio station comes at a time as the radio industry is in a trend for station ownership consolidation and it’s better to be in the position of acquiring new stations than being acquired, Michael said.

The action also comes at time when federal funding may disappear. The U.S. House of Representatives last week eliminated funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Marfa Public Radio gets about one-third of its funding from that source.

KOCV’s listenership is a potential 267,000 persons in the Odessa-Midland area. Marfa Public Radio reaches about 12,000 potential listeners/members.

But, “We’ve been real frugal with our cash reserve,” Michael said, which allowed the purchase of the Odessa station.

Story filed under: Top Stories

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